Grizzly Creek burn scar could mean flash flood closures during summer storms

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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (KDVR) — If you plan to drive between Denver and the Western Slope this summer, be prepared for potential closures in the Glenwood Canyon, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) says.

“Be sure to check the weather,” CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher said. “This year, in 2021, you want to watch it really closely.”

Precipitation in the Grizzly Creek burn scar could increase the risk for flash flooding, mudslides, rock falls and debris flow on I-70 in the Glenwood Canyon.

“In areas where there’s not as much vegetation holding dirt and rocks to the ground then it is possible that those will be looser and more easily able to come down and also bring other debris down with them onto the roadway,” Thatcher said.

If there is rain in the forecast, CDOT will work with weather experts to determine whether the risk warrants closures.

A flash flood watch will mean automatic closures of rest areas within the Glenwood canyon and the recreation path. CDOT will also close the path and rest areas if there is a 30% or greater risk of a flash flood watch or advisory being issued within the next 24 hours.

“If the forecast then switches to a flash flood warning, at that time we evacuate the canyon completely,” Thatcher said.

Once the canyon is closed, there is no easy way around it. If the closure is expected to last less than two hours, CDOT recommends drivers wait it out.

“If there is a closure that lasts for two hours or longer, we highly recommend aiming for the northern alternate route,” Thatcher said.

Heading westbound, the detour departs I-70 at Highway 9 in Silverthorne. Drivers will continue onto US-40 through Steamboat Springs and Craig before turning south onto Highway 13 and rejoining I-70 in Rifle.

“That does add several hours,” Thatcher said.

The northern route is the only one CDOT advises drivers to take. Taking a detour south of I-70 could result in further delays due to significant construction on US-50 through November 2022.

“If you’re planning on traveling through the canyon or recreating in the canyon and there’s rain in the forecast for that day and the next day, certainly keep checking the weather and have a backup plan,” Thatcher said.

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